Word, macOS, and System Keyboard Shortcuts

I’ve got just one question for you, fellow person:

Wouldn’t it be great if you wished yourself dead a touch less often when using Word on a Mac?

Microsoft is hellbent on making Office for macOS behave exactly as it does on Windows.  That sounds great on the face of it, but they take it too far with the keyboard shortcuts.  They have their own keybinding system that overrides a lot of the quiet native stuff offered in macOS.  When you use Word on a Windows system, Word’s shortcut system just happens to match the Windows-standard text navigation.  You never have a reason to notice that Word is goofing around with your keyboard input.

Of course, on macOS they put the proper Command-based shortcuts in play, but the Control-based Windows ones are still there too, making Word respond to both Cmd and Ctrl for commands such as Save, New Document, Cut, Copy, Paste, and others.  Word altogether ignores the wisdom of the standard Cmd-Up and Cmd-Down for “top of document” and “bottom of document” (instead making it jump paragraphs) and instead opts for the Windows-influenced Cmd-Home and Cmd-End, which is particularly obtuse because on any modern Apple keyboard this means you have to push Cmd-Fn-Left and Cmd-Fn-Right when you really want to go up and down.

Worse for me, honestly, I use the “secret” system Ctrl shortcuts quite a lot in text editors of all kinds, so Ctrl-N, Ctrl-P, Ctrl-A, and Ctrl-E mean important things to me (up, down, home, end).  Word messes up or completely ignores these commands, because even on macOS, Ctrl-P means Print to Word, and Ctrl-N is a new document, and Ctrl-A means “select all.”


I refuse to be bothered by this counter-productive nonsense on a daily basis.  So here’s what you do.

Screen Shot 2017-06-16 at 11.21.17 PM

Open Word and visit the “Tools” menu for the “Customize Keyboard” menu item.

The window that pops up will give you access to the master keyboard shortcut system that Word uses (and stores in the mythological “Normal.dotm” file—more on that later).

They try to throw you a bone in this window to break up the commands into their respective menubar groups, but the truth is that it’s not a very tasty bone.  There are lots of shortcuts bound to things that don’t explicitly appear in the menus, and they all have names that come off as obtuse to the average user.

Screen Shot 2017-06-16 at 11.26.59 PM

So scroll down in that little Categories list on the left and find “All Commands” so that you can cut the bullshit and get to filtering commands with the names I show in the table below.

When clicking on a cryptically named command in the right side list, you will notice that the box below all of this will show any shortcuts bound to that action—sometimes there is more than one, as you will see if you look up the “FileSave” command, which lists both Command-S and Control-S.  A huge number of these commands don’t actually have shortcuts assigned, but they’re open to new assignments if you’re brave.

All we’re going to move some assigns to their “native” macOS behaviors.

As a technical aside, it’s actually not good enough to just remove Word’s bad use of a shortcut and hope that it’ll let macOS just do the right thing—you have to actually redundantly tell Word what to do for any standard shortcut you hope to use.

Screen Shot 2017-06-16 at 11.54.40 PM

To set a new shortcut, place your blinking cursor in the box below all that and just press the combination you want to use.  If it looks right, press that “Assign” button and (once you finish off by pressing the window’s “OK” button) you’re good to go.  As demonstrated in the related image, you don’t have to worry when assigning a shortcut that is in use elsewhere; Word will strip the old command of that combination and assign it only to this one.

Another potentially interesting aside: if you ever remove an overridden shortcut, it seems to go back to its original command all by itself.  No matter what I did to stump it, Word seems to know what all the defaults are even if you mess stuff up.  Just remove a bad shortcut if you don’t like it and things will go back to normal.

Following is the list of (fairly self-explanitory) command names that I myself was interested to fix, and also what the proper system default shortcut should be.  I’ve written the names the way Word will display them when you’ve correctly entered the shortcut.

Command name New shortcut
StartOfDocument Command+Up Arrow
EndOfDocument Command+Down Arrow
StartOfLine Control+A
EndOfLine Control+E
LineDown Control+N
LineUp Control+P

To add zest to my already improving life, I added these as well, which help you navigate up and down by paragraph.  These aren’t strictly system shortcuts, but they are common in popular code and text editing software.

Command name New shortcut
ParaDown Option+Down Arrow
ParaUp Option+Up Arrow

By default, pressing the “OK” button on this window will automatically save these changes to your “Normal.dotm” file, which is the master template that Word will use for all future fresh, blank documents.  Lucky for you, if this is really the only reason in your life you’ve messed with this stuff, then all previously existing documents will get to use the custom shortcuts too (since those documents didn’t embed their own overrides).

I choose to back up the file in order to preserve this work so that I don’t have to mess with this process in the future should I get a new computer and install Office.  There’s not much of a reason to back it up just to preserve Word’s default though; just deleting “Normal.dotm” will make Word recreate a fresh default one.

You can find this special file in the amazingly named folder “UBF8T346G9.Office” at the following place in your user account’s “Library” folder.  (Open Finder and use the “Go” menu for “Go to Folder” to paste this path and go there directly.)

~/Library/Group Containers/UBF8T346G9.Office/User Content/Templates

If you’ve had Word installed for a long time and did an in-place upgrade from their 2011 version to 2016, the folder will be at the old location, shown below:

~/Library/Application Support/Microsoft/Office/User Templates/My Templates

So.  May you wish yourself dead a touch less often when using Word on a Mac.